Posted Tuesday 13 December 2016
A programme set up by a Kingston University professor is making waves in the design industry for empowering people to fix everyday challenges for others.
Fixperts, a programme founded by Professor Daniel Charny from the University's Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture has scooped the annual Blueprint Award for design in 2016. The design education programme inspires people to look at the problems others face and use their creative problem solving skills to create economic and environmentally sustainable solutions. Inventions including a harness enabling a paralysed woman to continue dancing, and a camera accessory to help a young woman born without a right hand to take photos have engaged the art and design community to think about what design can be used for.
The Fixperts team picked up the coveted blue brick award from the Blueprint Awards ceremony after receiving the highest amount of votes from the magazine's readers for the design category. The awards recognise and celebrate the very best in international architecture and design.
Professor Charny, along with co-founder James Carrigan began the volunteer-run programme in 2012 by making five films of people fixing items that were then gifted to a person in need. Professor Charny has since developed the programme to its current form which combines design, social impact and story-telling with prototyping and making skills to create a movement of ‘Fixperts', people who film themselves making their invention or solution and post it to the Fixperts website, to share ideas and good practice. The website now boasts more than 250 videos from users in 21 countries around the world.
"There's a positive social understanding and impact that comes from engaging with real life problems and making the solution together with others. It's heart-warming to see this idea resonate around the world, with videos appearing from people in countries including Mexico and China," Professor Charny said.
The programme is now taught in 25 universities worldwide, in cities including Shanghai, Barcelona Copenhagen and of course, in Kingston. The programme continues to flourish in the design department at Kingston University, with Fixperts inviting Fixpartners - the people with a challenge that needs a solution - from the local community to take part.
The idea for Fixperts grew out of an exhibition Professor Charny curated at the V&A Museum in 2011 called The Power of Making, which attracted more than 300,000 visitors and was recognised as the most popular free display the museum has seen since the 1950s. The design professor set the foundations of the programme at Kingston University. "The University's support has been with us from grassroots to the top level, with the Stanley Picker Gallery hosting our first international conference," he said. "The programme ties in with the ‘Thinking through Making' ethos of the faculty."
The adoption of the Fixperts idea by other higher education institutions, coupled with their recent accolade from the industry, has strengthened Professor Charny's ambitions to have the programme taught at every level of education. "We're working with a UK examination board on a new science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) technical qualification, where we could potentially see Fixperts rolled out in schools nationally," Professor Charny explained. "One of the underlying aspects of making is creating empathy and resourcefulness - and the programme encourages students to develop essential social awareness and communication skills in the process."
"The award is a prize from the profession that really acknowledges social impact and as an industrial designer myself - having trained in the 80s, worked in the industry in the 90s and moved to teaching and curating in the noughties - the acknowledgement is a real encouragement to keep moving forward and exploring how design has evolved," Professor Charny said.
Acting Dean for the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture Professor Penny Sparke praised the spirit of the programme for blending entrepreneurialism with a social context. "The concept of Fixperts really ties in with the ‘Thinking through Making' ethos of the faculty, as it combines material intelligence, teamwork and communication," she said. "The Fixperts' work goes to show how art and design can play a powerful role in improving a community or individual's everyday lives.